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Tide swinging against Aug. 1

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly across large swaths of America, it is no surprise Gov. David Ige is being urged to reconsider the Aug. 1 date for easing travel restrictions on transpacific travelers.

Even in normal times it would be difficult to implement an effective program of testing, confirming and tracing. Now, in the middle of a global pandemic, leaders must juggle all the moving parts with an array of unknowns.

Will there be enough tests? In areas on the Mainland where tests are in short supply, will it be ethical to use them on families who just want to go on vacation? What will the virus numbers on the West Coast be on Aug. 1? How many new COVID-19 cases can island communities treat before their short-staffed hospitals are overwhelmed?

The pandemic is ever evolving, and, unfortunately, not evolving very well in many American states. One unexpected variable we find disappointing is the recent news that airline passengers have lied about their positive COVID-19 tests and symptoms so they could board flights. Other surprises include how politicized the pandemic has become and how selfish some Americans have shown themselves to be.

Back in March, who would have thought the United States would be the world leader in COVID-19 cases and deaths? Our 3.13 million cases and 133,079 deaths far surpass Brazil, which is second in both categories, with 1.75 million cases and 69,184 deaths as of Thursday. New case number records are set nearly every day, yet our nation finds itself locked in an ideological debate over masks, one of the few weapons we have to slow the spread. This clannish wrangling boggles the mind.

At least one Maui doctor isn’t surprised travelers would fib about their health.

“We know people don’t always tell the truth,” says Dr. Norman Estin, founder and medical director of Doctors on Call Urgent Care Centers. “They could take Tylenol before they have their temperature checked. You can’t keep all people who are sick out, that’s a given. Even those people who get tested have 72 hours before their flight. That’s a lot of time to get infected.”

Estin acknowledges the devastating economic toll the pandemic is taking on many of Hawaii’s people and businesses, as well as the drain on its public coffers. He says in an ideal world, Hawaii would find a way to ensure its people weather the financial storm while still keeping its virus defenses in place.

“The best situation for Hawaii would be to stay closed until there is a vaccine,” Estin said. “The question is, how many billions of dollars a month does it take to keep Hawaii going?”

As Gov. Ige, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino and other leaders decide when it is safe to end the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving transpacific passengers, it will come down to weighing potential financial gain against the risks. Unless they find a reliable crystal ball, the numbers they use to make that decision will be based on many unknowns.

The decision would be far more clear-cut if they could just count on everyone doing what is right for each other and the world in this time of crisis.

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